Brock Turner, Donald Trump, And Other Men Who Haven't Learned A Thing In 2017
The #MeToo movement has completely rocked mainstream discourse about sexual harassment and assault. For the first time in recent memory, men accused of sexual misconduct are facing repercussions for their behavior at a seemingly record rate, and it feels like society is slowly inching away from victim-blaming survivors to believing and protecting them. But even with all of these steps forward, there is still a litany of men such as Brock Turner and Donald Trump who haven't learned anything in 2017.
These are the men who find themselves unable to acknowledge the validity of the #MeToo movement without caveats. In the same breath that they acknowledge how important it is to listen to women, they say that it's #NotAllMen. Or, they defend alleged perpetrators of sexual assault while shrugging off accusations also made about themselves. They use their track record on supporting women's rights to indicate that they could not be guilty of sexual misconduct. And they joke half-seriously about how dangerous it is to be a man right now "because being friendly might be misconstrued as harassment." They repeatedly mention that they are fathers, brothers, uncles to women and therefore are able to vouch for women's experiences. Frequently, they posture as though the rules simply do not apply to them.
2017 has seen a lot of these types of men. Here are some of this year's most reliable examples:
In 2015, Brock Turner, a former Stanford student who was 19 years old at the time, was arrested for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. He was convicted of three sexual assault charges in 2016, all felonies, which carried a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison. When the time came for his sentence, a judge handed him a paltry six months; Turner ultimately only served half that time.
Now free, Turner is appealing his conviction, reportedly in search of reducing the part of his sentencing that requires him to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. Turner has repeatedly been criticized for benefitting from white male privilege, which critics argue protected him from receiving a lengthier statement. Appealing after being handed down such a gentle sentence has bolstered those accusations.
At least 19 women have accused the president of sexual misconduct, but he denies every allegation. The official White House stance on the accusations is that every single one of the women who has come forward, with stories of sexual misconduct that took place over the span of decades, is lying.
Add into the mix the now-infamous Access Hollywood tape in which Trump is heard in conversation with correspondent Billy Bush, joking about sexual assault, and one would expect the president to be in quite the public relations quagmire. Instead, he steamed right ahead, getting elected to the presidency.
And one year after the Access Hollywood tape came out, Trump endorsed Roy Moore, a senatorial candidate accused by as many as eight women of initiating sexual encounters when they were teenage girls. Moore has consistently denied the allegations and described them as "dirty politics" and "ritual defamation." After keeping away from the controversy for a while, Trump later openly campaigned for Moore.
The far-right political pundit, Bill O'Reilly, made headlines this year when reports surfaced that Fox News had paid $32 million to settle a sexual harassment claim against him from a Fox News contributor. It is the most expensive known payout against him so far. O'Reilly has vehemently denied accusations of sexual misconduct, and he told The Washington Post that he agreed to the payout "to protect my children from the horror" of a public sexual harassment trial. "I knew if I took this to court there would be three years of unrelenting headlines. That’s why I did it," he said.
The New York Times reported that Fox News' parent company, 21st Century Fox, proceeded to renew O'Reilly's contract with the network, despite being aware of the allegations against him. Critics like Stephen Colbert were quick to point to the peculiarity of paying out a heaping sum if one believes they are innocent. Fox News fired O'Reilly back in April after the allegations were made public.
Since Nov. 16, seven women have accused Sen. Al Franken of sexual misconduct. The allegations even led to Franken announcing his resignation from Congress. As this was happening, Franken disputed several details about the accusations, describing one allegation of forcible kissing as "categorically untrue." Franken apologized for his behavior, but in his resignation speech on the Senate floor, he again disputed some of the allegations and insisted: "We have to listen to women and respect what they say."
Given that there was photographic evidence supporting one woman's allegation, publicly denying some accusations while also apologizing for others feels tone-deaf. It's not that he shouldn't have the opportunity to defend himself, but the protracted, unclear nature of his response seemed poorly played.
In October, Alex Jones, host of a fringe-right news show, made fun of a woman who accused Trump of sexual assault. "That's bad acting. She couldn't get a job working for a soap opera," Jones said of Summer Zervos, who is suing Trump for defamation for denying her accusations and calling them a "hoax." Instead of considering that an allegation could be true, Jones chose to mock a potential victim, comparing her to melodramatic television.
Since the early 90's, Woody Allen's adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow, has accused him of sexually assaulting her when she was seven years old. Every few years, she pops into the spotlight to write or speak about her experiences, which Allen has denied time and time over.
On Dec. 7, Farrow wrote an essay about it, asking why movie producer Harvey Weinstein has faced repercussions in the face of sexual assault allegations, but Allen has largely suffered no consequences. Instead, some of the same A-list actresses condemning Weinstein's alleged behavior say that they simply do not know what happened between Allen and Farrow. They say they separate the work from the person who produces that work.
While almost every single powerful man accused of sexual misconduct in the last two months has responded to the allegations, Allen has continued onward, business as usual.
Matt Lauer, the TODAY show host who was ousted after a sexual harassment complaint, did apologize, broadly, for having behaved badly. Unfortunately, instead of addressing the women who accused him of being inappropriate, his apology statement focused on his employer and fans.
Additionally, instead of apologizing to those whom he hurt and leaving it at that, he took time to cast doubt on some of the allegations, claiming "some of what is being said about me is untrue or mischaracterized."
Former senatorial candidate Moore, a former Alabama judge, was accused of sexual harassment and/or assault by as many as eight women during his campaign. Moore has denied all of the allegations, describing them as "dirty politics" and "ritual defamation." He has also denied knowing any of the accusers.
Despite calls by many Republicans for Moore to abandon his bid for the Senate, he continued on, and continues still, refusing to concede an election he has decidedly lost. And instead of so much as acknowledging that he might have hurt any of the women who brought allegations against him, he has painted himself as a devout Christian who was accused of misconduct as some type of political conspiracy against him.
For every woman (or man) who comes forward with a story alleging sexual abuse, there seems to be a man right behind them, undercutting their experiences. Even after countless accused perpetrators of sexual misconduct have begun to suffer consequences, whether by being charged or suspended or fired, the notion that victims gain something by coming forward with these experiences persists, and victims, alleged or otherwise, are mocked and derided. While progress seems to be happening, America isn't in the clear. It's still so important to hear people out when they're sharing traumatic stories, regardless of your knee-jerk reaction or political affiliation.